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Re-defining the meaning of greatest country in the world, through happiness

Write to the Point

 


I’ve recently developed an interest in lists. Actually it’s always been there, starting likely with David Letterman’s show in the 1980s and his top 10.

When I lived in Seattle there was “The Lame List,” on a comedy show called “Almost Live” produced by NBC affiliate KING. Check these out on YouTube.

Lately, lists about where countries stand in a variety of categories have caught my eye. The most recent is the list of “World’s Happiest Countries” determined through a variety of factors compiled by the London-based think tank Legatum Institute.

The Forbes article discussing the list describes happiness as the ability to make enough money to feed your family, be healthy, buy things you want, enjoy religious freedom, free speech without fear of reprisal, the opportunity to get an education and for entrepreneurship.

As such, of 142 countries analyzed (using data in government, economics, education, etc.) covering 96 percent of the world population the happiest country on the institute’s Prosperity Index (prosperity serving also for happiness) is Norway with the highest per capita GDP, $57,000 a year, second highest level of satisfaction with the standards of living, 95 percent satisfaction with the level of freedom and 74 percent saying other people can be trusted.

Norway is followed by Denmark, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand, with our northern neighbor Canada sixth. Luxembourg is ranked the healthiest nation on Earth, Iceland the safest with Switzerland owning the best economy and governance. Forbes writer Chris Helmen notes there are similarities among the top 20 countries: most are in western Europe, most are small with homogenous populations, 18 are democracies while a number are “borderline socialist states, (but not autocratic) with generous welfare benefits and lots of redistribution of wealth,” abundant civil liberties and “few restrictions on the flow of capital or of labor.”

So where does the U.S. fit? We’re 12th, dropping two slots because of declines in governance, personal freedom, entrepreneurship and opportunity. As Helmen writes “America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, but Legatum notes ‘a decline in citizens’ perception that working hard gets you ahead.’”

Lists can be subjective because in seeking a common outcome, different lists can determine those outcomes using different standards and data. For instance the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 incorporating 436 researchers from 302 institutions, determined the healthiest country in the world was Japan for both male and female life expectancies – not Luxembourg.

The U.S. ranked 29th for males and 33rd for females.

Here’s more. The friendliest countries, according to Forbes, are the Cayman Islands, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. The U.S. is seventh.

The best educated countries based on an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report are Canada, Israel and Japan with the U.S. fourth and New Zealand fifth.

The most polite country in the world: Again hard to define polite. The best I could come up with was Forbes’ “Most rude countries in the world to travelers.” In this, France is the winner with the U.S. seventh, but the study authors attributed some of this rudeness to cultural differences between locals and travelers. But then again, on first glance you might not know the difference, so how do we know we don’t treat each other rudely?

The most polite country to travelers: Brazil.

There are lists ranking the U.S. No. 1. We are the wealthiest nation when it comes to GDP and the largest economy. We have the most billionaires (422); spend the most on our military as a share of GDP (4.7 percent compared to No. 2 China at 2.0) and have the most guns per capita, 88 per every 100 people (as compared to No. 2 Yemen at 54.8).

There are lists for just about anything, but here’s my point. As we claim so often that the U.S. is the greatest country on the planet and in history, wouldn’t we want to rank first in some of the happiest, healthiest, most prosperous and perceived freest people lists rather than in categories like the most heavily armed and rudest?

Wouldn’t that be a better definition of greatest?

 

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